Reggaeton Music Roots and Characteristics

Reggaeton artist Daddy Yankee
Reggaeton artist Daddy Yankee. Getty Images

Reggaeton is sweeping the Latin music world with its irrepressible blend of tropical Latin and reggae rhythms. Today many of the most popular reggaeton artists come from Puerto Rico, but you can't keep this music from sailing out to the rest of the world.

The Music

The distinctive sound of today's reggaeton is a mix of Jamaican dancehall rhythms, derived from reggae, and Latin merengue, bomba, plena and sometimes salsa. It's heavily percussive beat is called "dembow" and comes from Trinidad's 'soca' music; it fuses electronic dance music, hip-hop elements and Spanish / Spanglish rap to form a compelling, driving sound that has been embraced by Hispanic urban youth worldwide.

Roots of Reggaeton

Historically there has been an invisible line that has segregated Jamaican music and other Latin dance styles. But that line was breached in Panama, a country with a significant Jamaican population that had migrated south to work on the Panama Canal in the early 20th century.

There's a heated debate about whether reggaeton originated in Panama or Puerto Rico. While it seems obvious that the roots are Panamanian, some of the best known (and earliest) purveyors of today's reggaeton sounds come from Puerto Rico, so the confusion is easily understood.


Panamanian El General (Edgardo A. Franco) was one of the pioneers of the Reggaeton sound, returning to Panama from an accounting job in the states to record the new dancehall fusion.

During the 1990s, the reggae sound became more popular in Panama and continued to change as elements of hip-hop, rap and other Carribean music fused with the older reggae dancehall style.

Puerto Rico Takes Over

As the mixture of hip-hop, rap and reggae caught the imagination of urban youth in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Latin cultural centers in the U.S., the majority of new reggaeton artists catching the public's imagination came from Puerto Rico - to the extent that reggaeton is often thought of as primarily Puerto Rican Music.

Puerto Rico's pioneering rapper, Vico C, started releasing hip-hop recordings in the 1980s and over time mixed in urban Panamanian dancehall music. Performing in a suit rather than traditional rapper clothing, Vico added plena and bomba elements to his musical mix. The music caught on and generated a wealth of musical talent bent on expressing the angst, anger, and energy of urban life set to a compelling rhythm.

Reggaeton Takes Off

2004 was the year that reggaeton finally burst out of its confined space. With the release of Daddy Yankee's Barrio Fino, Tego Calderon's El Enemy de los Guasibiri, Ivy Queen's Diva and Real, the reggaeton sensation was off and running and shows no sign of slowing down.

Puerto Rico's large roster of reggaeton artists includes, along with those mentioned above, Voltio, Glory, Wisin & Yandel, Don Omar, Luny Tunes, Calle 13 and Hector El Bambino (now Hector the Father). This Puerto Rican invasion has captured the hearts of urban Hispanic youth the world over.

Pioneering Reggaeton Artists

  • Dancehall Reggaespanol (Various Artists, 1991)
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  • La Verdadera Historia: XV Anos de Exitos el General (El General, 2004)
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  • Vico C: Greatest Hits (Vico C, 1994)
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Puerto Rican Reggaeton Artists

  • Barrio Fino (Daddy Yankee, 2004)
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  • Diva (Ivy Queen, 2004)
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  • El Enemy de los Guasibiri (Tego Calderon, 2004)
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  • King of Kings (Don Omar, 2006)
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  • Voltio (Voltio, 2005)
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